The average tax (combining the state and national taxes) on gasoline is about fifty cents a gallon. In California, that tax reaches sixty-nine cents. Most of us don’t really keep up with these taxes because they are pre-included in the gas prices. That’s about a 13% tax on something we use everyday—not a luxury, but a necessity, for most Americans. There’s a seven or so percent local tax on just about everything else we buy, as well as a much higher “sin” tax on alcohol, tobacco, etc. (since statists just absolutely hate “legislating morality”… right.) Further, most of us are paying out federal income taxes through automatic withholdings. Most of us don’t even really “see” how much we’re paying in taxes. I expect that if most of us paid no taxes on anything throughout the year, and then had to write out three checks every April (one county, one state, and one Federal) to pay all the taxes we would have paid throughout the year… there would be some serious unrest. We’ve been fooled. The Sons of Liberty who started the Boston Tea Party weren’t so easy to fool.
As are most things in history, the story of the Boston Tea Party is more complicated than we’ve been told. Most of us were told that colonial patriots, refusing to pay a new tax on tea, dumped a shipment of British tea into Boston Harbor. This is only part of the story. Great Britain had already repealed the Stamp Act, a direct internal tax on stamps and such, because colonists wouldn’t stop griping about it. So the crown thought a better way to raise revenue would be an indirect tax: a tariff on any non-British tea imported to the colonies. The Tea Act repealed customs taxes for the financially troubled East India Company, thus allowing this company to undersell foreign competitors. In effect, the Tea Act was the original big government bailout. Colonists had a difficult decision:
Purchase their tea from a non-British company and pay taxes to the crown, or keep more money in their pockets by supporting a company they felt was harmful to the society they were trying to build.
The Tea Act was an attempt at indirect taxation, and it also failed. The percentage was much lower than 13% (as low as 0.8% by some accounts), yet the colonists would have nothing of it. They made it clear to King George that they would not be maneuvered back-handedly into supporting the selfish interests of the crown. So they dumped some East India Company tea into the harbor (that’s why they were dressed as Indians, by the way… to make it clear they knew whose tea they were dumping and what was at stake). In effect, they were saying, “We won’t make this hateful choice… We refuse to be manipulated. Repeal the law.”
Perhaps many would say that there is a difference between our situation and the colonial one because they felt they were being taxed by a government in which they had no representation. We, on the other hand, get to elect our officials. But this is becoming less and less the case. The Department of Transportation, a bureaucratic Federal agency with government-appointed rather than popularly elected officials, is responsible for setting the Federal taxes on gasoline. Whether it is the IRS, the EPA, the FDA, or whatever other Federal Brobdingnagian you want to pull out of Leviathan’s hat, most of the taxes we pay go to agencies in which we have very little if any representation and over which we have almost no control. And those of us that pay taxes are paying exponentially more than the colonists would have ever dreamed was possible.
And it may not be the case that we need to have a unanimous tax revolt. The graduated income tax may actually be working in our favor in the end, as immoral as it is. If only ten percent of Americans are paying ninety percent of the taxes, we just need to convince the ten percent to say, “No more!” This is not “unpatriotic” as some may say (and have said). This is in fact in line with the original patriotism that gave this country birth. Not to mention that a tax revolt would have less environmental impact than dumping gasoline into the Gulf of Mexico…